Uprooting Family

Vanessa Mercado Taylor, Marquetta Dupree, and their children, wearing “My Ancestors are Proud t-shirts by Liza Garza. Photo: Melisa Cardona.

Vanessa Mercado Taylor

The ROOTS Week Youth Village has provided space for generations of Alternate ROOTS’ kids – a space with programming for ROOTS’ youngest family members while parents attend ROOTS Week sessions. This year, at the request of parents, a family cohort was created – a space for families to process the UPROOTing work together – where kids were allowed. As coordinator of the Youth Village and co-collaborator of the Family Cohort, I had the privilege of experiencing this year’s ROOTS Week through a parent/child-centered perspective and I was reminded of the important work of uprooting “family.”

The family cohort was a space where the mamas could breathe – where we shared in our experiences as parents. But it wasn’t the “family” cohort because most of the folks there were raising children. We were also supported generously by folks who don’t have kids. Found intersections with other reflections of family such as Mama D and Alisha’s naming of ‘Teens with a Purpose’ as a family. ROOTS has always affirmed that children do not and did not make the family. So why did WE, ROOTS, name a “child-friendly” space the “family” cohort? Does this naming make invisible the many families who don’t have children? Why did all the mama’s congregate in the family space? What does that say about the spaces we are creating together? Who didn’t show up and why? Are we unintentionally reflecting heteronormativity? How do we address parent privilege?

These are important questions that we can consider while honoring the important work of parenting. Because although kids don’t make a family, ROOTS Week gave us parents an opportunity to explore unschooling for liberation, gender expansion, power dynamics between children and adults, queerness – all in ways really specific to raising kids. We were reminded this year of the ways that parents often push their children to be complicit with the same systems of oppression we are fighting against. We explored how power, class and race show up in our parenting and partnering. We connected the work from the UPROOTing sessions with the experiences of our children at Youth Village. Children were affirmed in the space created by the Family Cohort. Despite my later questions and challenging of the naming, It was an especially sacred affirmation of family because it affirmed that ROOTS is indeed there for all of us, those who didn’t have kids, those who do, those who will, those who are kids, the kid inside us.

ROOTS has created spaces where we can practice what it is to be in community, in relationship. And those of us who gather during ROOTS Week are such expansive examples of family: our brown/black/queer/radical/decolonizing/collaborative/chosen families. Many of us are defining and redefining family constantly.

ROOTS provides examples of what is possible when we re-define family with mamas, papas, mapas, aunties, parents, guardians, friends, children, niblings, allies, neighbors, lovers, sisters, misters, and everything in between. When it’s not just parents and their kids but ALL of us – all of us who are sharing space, sharing in our resistance. Thank you to our ROOTS family for creating space for the children and for those of us walking with them…though we know some of us don’t.

Some of us are frustrated that the children are running around.

“One of them just said something really problematic about gender!”

“Oooh, where are they gettin’ that from? They must be learning that at home!”

“I didn’t want to have kids because I didn’t want to deal with this.”

It can be challenging when sometimes the overall community isn’t welcoming to parents and their children. Thank you to Mama Vicki Meek who last year reminded us that intergenerational work is essential to our continued resistance to the systems of power. It’s necessary work we are doing together. Powerful work we are helping each other do in our communities.

So if you see the kids running around next year…you’re family. Call them out, call them in. Challenge us to do better by them. ROOTS kids have the opportunity to understand family, race, gender, sexuality, in ways we can never imagine. To practice liberation in ways we couldn’t. What if WE, ROOTS, raise liberated children?…What if all the work we had to do to undo, unlearn, decolonize, assimilate…the next generation doesn’t have to? What if they can instead have that time to follow their creativity, their freedom, their rebellions – and challenge us to be better, to do better!

At ROOTS Village this year they envisioned a future without bars, without presidents. They sang songs and went on nature walks. They used puppets to understand social justice and made agreements. They fought and made up and supported each other. Marquetta and I watched our babies work through relationship issues that we as adults are still figuring out for ourselves and with each other. How to balance each other’s needs. How to be honest about what we’re feeling. We walked with them and they walked with us. A beautiful example of how we guide each other through this life–how we learn together. We are learning how to create family without blood bonds, but rather with roots. With real foundations that support in ways that sometimes our blood family cannot and will not.

Gracias familia for helping to create such necessary reflections of what is possible when we challenge traditional notions of family while also honoring the spaces where our children can be free to envision futures beyond what we can imagine.

Vanessa Mercado-Taylor is an Indigenous-Xicana-Colombiana educator, theatre director, producer, actor and playwright. She is the Chair of Drama and Humanities at El Centro College and advocate of unschooling for liberation. She completed an internship in Human Rights and the Arts with Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis where she developed HypheNATIONS, a series of performances created with the Latinx Community around issues of immigration, migration and displacement. Currently, her work is focused on bringing together women of color to reimagine the future through Afro-Indigenous Futurism that challenges capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy.

Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in communities of place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression—everywhere.